as they say ‘a watched pot never boils’ or in this case, the week before vacation never goes fast enough. this week has just been a struggle and it’s only tuesday. i feel like i’ve hit a wall with teaching being just plain mentally worn out and my students are already showing signs of cabin fever with the sudden change of weather. i’m pretty sure all ukrainians, or anyone that lives with a cold winter, suffers from cabin fever, but it’s just a little more noticeable when your neighbors are 150 rambunctious kids. looks like we’ll all go crazy together this winter.
despite the cold weather, the students still stay outside and reek havoc as much as they can (although not today, it’s been rainy with a chance of snow brr). and by reek havoc i mean starting a fire in the outdoor toilet (turkish style toilets). sunday night i stepped outside to feed my pack of five dogs when i saw students running with buckets from the shower room window. one student cheerfully greeted me with ‘hello miss kristi! fire! toilet fire!’ to which i looked and saw an orange glow lighting up the night sky coming from the outdoor toilets. uh oh. the boys usually smoke in the girls outdoor toilet but someone’s cigaret but must have caught whatever toilet paper there was on fire. it only took two or three buckets of water to put it out, so it was more funny than anything.
some of the students often ask me if i’ll come outside and ‘hang’ with them after dinner (which does not include smoking in the girls room). and despite the mounds of papers to grade, lessons to plan, and the SERIOUS wind (i always manage to live somewhere super windy), i usually do join them cauuuuse they’re kinda my only social output. usually i talk with a group of students (in ukrainian or russian) while we watch other students run around and/or fight each other. i know i should be cautious as to what sort of message this sends concerning my hierarchy….but it’s actually pretty amusing and nice to have people to talk to…even if they’re super hormonal pre-teens.
monday night i zipped myself up in my winter parka, put on my hat and scarf and went outside to join them. despite the single digit temps (in celsius that is), and the only light provided by the village’s two street lamps, the boys were still runnin around playing some sort of tag. maxim, one of my 8b formers, sat on the bench and talked with me, teaching me how to eat sunflower seeds. sunflower seeds to ukrainians is like peanut butter to americans. the pot-holy streets are basically paved with sunflower shells. they love them. and boy are they pros at eating them. i….however….am not. if i knew my shelling skills would be put to the test, i probably would have never bought shelled sunflower seeds all these years. at one point i had 5 of my student showing me how to properly and quickly shell a sunflower seed. i went through handfuls of seeds, sorta got it at one point, but my shelling average is still a rate of 15 seeds per 30 minutes. shameful.
as i sat there, fingers going numb and making my shelling skills even worse, maxim and i chit chatted. we talked about everything from family to pets (which he told me he’d bring a dog house his family isn’t using for chucha. her box i set outside for her is pitiful. and now falling apart from the rain), new years in ukraine and all sorts of things. we sat outside talking, myself concentrating on those darn sunflower shells, the dorm supervisors came outside and ushered all the kids inside explaining that there’s a ‘maniac’ around. to my surprise, maniac is exactly the same in english as it is in ukrainian/russian, so thankfully no one needed to tell me what was going on. i sat there sorta confused, not because i didn’t understand, but wondered if this ‘maniac’ was really just some drunk man causing problems, maybe someone off their rocker, or a really good dancer on the dance floor? i asked maxim if that’s what it was (not the dancer part), but he said no and something about the person wanting money? curious. a few of my students told me go inside, saying ‘no safe, no safe’ and gesturing what looked like stabbing and dying….oh….that’s nice. i never did find out who this ‘maniac’ was, which i guess is probably for the best.
twice a week or so a bus full of kids from other schools come to take an excursion of our school
(with the maniac detail left out of it). a handful of 9-11th formers are excused from class (i bet all the students want their job) and dress up in traditional ukrainian costumes and greet them with song and dance. i’m usually teaching while i can hear them singing with the accompaniment of the accordion and watch them walk by the door as i teach. sometimes they’ll pop in and ask to speak with me. a REAL american! this time i was on my way to class so i stopped to watch from the hallway. they’ve done the same performance a million times, but this time they added some sort of stick hopping game to it. i couldn’t see much past the group of people except for two shoes jumping crisscross over the sticks. interesting. after the excursion continued on to the gym, the older head custodian lady picked up the sticks. i asked her what that was all about and to my surprise she set the sticks on the ground, in the shape of a + and jumped, crossing her feet each time, she looked at me with such a joyfully youthful smile i couldn’t help but laugh with delight. this lady is not someone you’d ever want to cross if you’re a kid, like most ukrainian teachers for that matter. for the majority of the day you won’t find her smiling, and at the beginning of the school year i thought for sure she hated me….but i think i’ve gotten on her good side.
i am able to get a smile from her when i see her each morning and we’ve had a few more chats. during the last excursion i walked past a few teachers on tour to which she proudly told them i was from chicago. and i certainly won’t forget the time she waited to talk to me after a lesson, i thought for sure i was in trouble, but she showed me a magnet her friend brought her from her trip to florida. she presented the little magnet cartoon map of the state and pointed to the ‘clearwater beach’ where her friend from ukraine went, and just so coincidentally where i met jeff. it certainly is a small small world. so while we might not be braiding each other’s hair (yet), it’s still such a good feeling to win over your co-workers…even if it is just the head custodian.